Posted Monday, August 12, 2002

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On August 1, 2002 Professor Richard Evans was invited to promote the UK edition of his libellous book Telling Lies on Australian radio, in a lengthy interview with top newscaster Philip Adams. Mr Irving, the target of the interview, was not invited to participate, either at the time or since. By passing your mouse over the Irving logo Irving you will see what he would have had to say, given the opportunity, about Richard ("Skunk") Evans, who has trampled on the reputations not only of Mr Irving but of a dozen of the world's most famous historians in order to earn the quarter-million dollar fee paid to him for his neutral opinion by Prof Deborah Lipstadt and her London lawyers. Click for original audio: audio

EvansRadio National, Sydney, Australia, August 1, 2002


Phillip Adams: G'day, beloved listeners. Welcome to LNL on Radio National, Radio Australia and the World Wide Web, and in a moment or two I'm going to introduce you to an extraordinary fellow, someone I've been waiting to talk to for two years now, Richard J Evans (right). But before Richard gets his head on I'm going to read the opening words from his book on which we base this discussion.

"This book is about how we can tell the difference between truth and lies in history. It uses as an example the libel case brought before the High Court in London in the spring of 2000 by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and her publishers Penguin. It concentrates on the issue of the falsification of the historical record which Lipstadt accused Irving of having committed and which was the subject of the investigations that I was asked to present to the court as an expert witness".

Now, Richard, before I ask you to represent your credentials, I've got a confession to make to you about David Irving, well, two. One of them is that I oppose the ban on him coming into Australia. It seemed to me that sort of helped his role of the injured martyr and the best way to deal with characters like Irving is to confront them. Now, whether that's right or wrong, it's the position that I've long held, but the other confession that I have to make to you is that I once shook his hand. Now this was an accident. David Irving bowled up to me at a radio station, I had no idea who it was, and I shook his hand.

Richard Evans: Well, I remember Robert Harris, the novelist and journalist tells the story how he was meeting Irving on the train at Oxford [sic. Cambridge], I think, and Irving shook his hand and said to him, "Well, now Mr Harris you've shaken the hand of a man who's shaken the hand of a woman who's shaken the hand of Hitler". Irving

So, there you are.

Adams: Oh, dear, oh dear. Now the other thing is you and I have to avoid eye contact because that's even worse than hand contact, particularly when you're dealing with Irving. Can you explain why?

Evans: Well, I'm OK if it's a genuine exchange of views with eye contact. I think it helps to know what the other fellow's thinking. But in court when I was in the witness box, first of all you are actually supposed to address your remarks to the judge, you're not supposed to engage in a dialogue with the person who is cross-examining you. Irving was conducting his own case, he didn't have a barrister. But I found, as another witness had found before me, that if you looked Irving in the eye, he'd somehow just got annoyed and that's not good from any point of view. It's very important to be completely dispassionate.

Adams: What, annoyance led to what, being flustered or antagonistic?

Evans: No, I mean just got a bit sharp with him really, nothing personally, but with the ideas and things that he was saying. So, so in the end I just looked at the judge and it was much easier to deal with the questions and insults Irving and the innuendoes coming from my left, from this unseen source, and just deal with them as they came in.

Evans bookAdams: The voice of Richard J Evans, Telling Lies About Hitler is the book, subtitled The Holocaust History and the David Irving Trial. How did you get embroiled in this? Had you had a long history of being an Irving watcher?

Evans: Absolutely not. No, no, I'd never met the man and I, to be honest, I never read anything he'd written. He works mainly on Hitler and his entourage and the Second World War in terms of military history and that's not the field I'm in.Irving

Adams: He's done a detour and looked at Churchill, for example, hasn't he?

Evans: Not anymore recently since he's been banned from entering Germany, and so can't have access to German archives, but he's really a German specialist, and I'm a German specialist, but I work in a much more broader field. I've researched on the Third Reich and written about it, but I'm not in the area that he's worked on. And besides that I've also written a book called In Defence of History, about the difference between objectivity and liars, or truth and fiction in history, and that, of course, was at the centre of the trial. So, when Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books , her publishers, for alleging that he falsified the historical record and effectively told lies about the past, as well as being a Holocaust denier, the defence solicitor who was working for Professor Lipstadt and also in conjunction with the Penguin Books solicitors, Anthony Julius, who achieved fame as getting a record divorce settlement for Princess Diana against the Prince of Wales a few years ago, knew my work a bit Irving, and so he asked me if I would act as an expert witness for the defence in the case.

Adams: You realised that Irving was determined not only to have his day in court but his week and his month and if possible his year.

Evans: Yes, that's [right?].

Adams: In other words you're gonna commit a lot of time to this.

Evans: Well, no, no, you see we all thought it would be over much more quickly than that. We thought about six months. It was only as we got into it and started working that we realized just how big the whole thing was and how much material there was and long it would get through, and in the end it took about three years of my life to do

Adams: You've got a very eclectic group of people on the back cover of the book singing your praises. One of them is David Irving, who says "Evans is a flat, dull, boring, venal, corrupt conformist who willingly sold his soul to the Devil".Irving.

Evans: Well, you see, I say in the book historians mustn't just select quotes that support their own point of view. They must have a variety of quotes that go the other way as well, and I thought that would spice things up a bit.

Adams: Well it certainly did. Now. I've mentioned that we've often discussed Irving and indeed the trial on the program and he was at one stage defended by regular Christopher Hitchens who said more or less, this is a paraphrase, that he was not only a good fascist historian but a good historian of fascism. How do you react to that?

Evans: Well, a couple of things to say about that. One is that Christopher Hitchens has changed his mind since reading my book. He gave it a wonderful review in the Los Angeles Times, which is so often with Christopher Hitchens, just as much about Christopher Hitchens as it is about what he is reviewing. He said that he was convinced that Irving was all the things in the book, and indeed the High Court judgment in London said that he was a falsifier of history, a racist and antisemite, and tells some interesting stories about his personal connections with Irving. I think Christopher Hitchens and Irving in a way have something in common, and that is they're both sort of English radicals on the fringes, and that rather endeared Irving to Hitchens years ago. Anybody who opposes the establishment is someone who Christopher Hitchens -- I'm a great fan of his writing, I think he's a wonderful writer -- admires.Irving But the problem is, as we found, that it is very, very difficult if you don't do an awful lot of hard work in checking Irving's facts, tracing his footnotes, going and looking at other documents.

Adams: That's what we have to talk about today, don't we, because most of us are not -- well, we don't have the credentials to so do, and the point that you make in your book, and it's a very compelling point, is that during the trial, although he thought he wasn't going as well as he thought he was, Irving was in fact starting to confuse and bewilder and undermine the confidence of many people about what they believed had actually happened in relation to the extermination of the Jews -- because if you can throw a lot of pseudo facts or just blur people with dates and times and data --

Evans: Yes, that's certainly the case when he's often interviewed on television or takes part in discussion programs, Irving and I found that journalists are often not sufficiently well prepared to be able to deal with this, but in court that certain interview that you quoted of a journalist, I think it was Jonathan Freedland, of The Guardian who wrote some of the most perceptive, interesting reporting of the trial -- but he certainly didn't really confuse the defence or the judge. If you remember this is trial was held only before a judge. Both sides agreed in advance that the subject matter was very technical and quite complicated. A lot of it depended on readings of German documents, often in handwriting, so the jury was dispensed with, and it was just before a judge. And I think he was, Mr Justice Gray, was enormously impressive, completely in control, he read it all, he digested everything, and he knew exactly where he was, as in the end his judgment shows.

Adams: Did David Irving know exactly where he was?

Evans: Well, I think that's difficult to say.

Adams: Because you describe him sometimes as being, you know, fairly confident, and other times just being clumsy and inept.

Evans: Well, yes, he knows an enormous amount about Hitler and his entourage and his immediate circle in the second world war and their conduct of military affairs, and over the years he's dug up through contacts and through sheer energy and diligence enormous amounts of new documentation of varying interest and importance, but some of it is undeniably important. So he does know a huge amount. I think there are two problems I came across in the trial: One, I also find in his books, very often you can't see the wood for the trees, as it were. He seems to have some difficulty in distinguishing sort of minor points from major ones, and when he was cross-examining me, conducting his own case, I found that the judge certainly remarked on several occasions that he wasn't always concentrating on the points that really, really mattered, the central points that he had to deal with that if he was going to win the case. The other thing is that when he was in the witness box being cross examined, he had to face a very formidable talent, through Richard Rampton QC, who's one of Britain's leading libel lawyers, who has a very deceptive le gentile [sic. very deceptively gentle?] donnish sort of appearance but in fact is razor sharp, and he built up a whole series of lines of questioning that repeatedly forced Irving to retreat and to make damaging admissions to his case.

Adams: This is LLN on Radio National, Radio Australia and the World Wide Web. Telling Lies About Hitler, is our topic and Richard Evans is my guest.

What was it about Lipstadt's book that Irving found it so infuriating. What was the specific point that he took to court?

Evans: Well, it's a 300-page book called Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory, and in it -- about six pages -- which call Irving a Holocaust denier in the sense that like most Americans writers and political figures from the extreme right who were the main subject of the book, she said that he denies the gas chambers in Auschwitz or elsewhere were used to kill millions of Jews, denies that millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis, he denies that there was any sort of deliberate program or coordinated action of extermination, and asserts that he believes that the evidence of this is fabricated during and after the war -- and that's the first thing that he objected to. The second thing that he objected to, which I think angered him a lot more, was where she says that like the Holocaust deniers Irving manipulates the documents, falsifies and constructs, invents statistics, mistranslates, misrepresents and in general doctored the historical record to conform to his own particular agenda which is to deny the Holocaust and to exculpate Hitler, and of course -

Adams: Well, that's the worse thing that you can say about an historian, isn't it, to be a document doctorer -

Evans: Well, in particular if you're like Irving you don't have a university position, you live entirely off your writings, and those writings claim to credibility because they have a lot of very detailed references and lots of kind of nitty-gritty detail in them, so as you say something like that their work is not reliable, then you're damaging their reputation and you're harming their income.Irving

Adams: Mind you, he has done a fair bit of damage to his own reputation in the past with say his pusillanimous or confused position on the Hitler Diaries.

Evans: Oh, yes, The Hitler Diaries, it's by some amazing chance that these surfaced in 199, eh, 1983, the fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power, and --

Adams: Timing is everything, isn't it?

Evans: -- purported to be a multi-volumned personal diary kept by the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, who, everybody who knew anything about him was aware that he was a very lazy man -- he only got up at two in the afternoon and spent half his time watching old movies,Irving and so on, and the thought of him being regular enough in his habits to write a diary was very surprising -- and they turned out to be forgeries that emanated from neo-Nazi circles, and Irving knew this, and he knew [the] collection from which they came, and appeared at a press conference where the diaries were being presented by a German magazine [Der Stern] and by The Time[s] newspaper in London as genuine -- and disrupted it allIrving by shouting that they were forgeries, well-known forgeries, and then after all this died down, he turned around and a few days later changed his mind and said that they were genuine.

Adams: But there was money involved wasn't there? Wasn't there a few bob on offer?

Evans: Yes, there's a very, very funny book by Robert Harris called Selling Hitler, which is the story of the Hitler Diaries, where he argues that the reason they got so far and were believed is that everybody who worked on them or had in contact with them had a financial interest in them being genuine, though I do think he misses the point that they are quite favourable to Hitler. Hitler turns -- from the Diary it seems to be -- quite a nice chap who's helping the Jews and curbing the excesses of the more violent subordinates, and Irving indeed did get some money from rival newspapers who wanted him to spoil the story, and then when he turned around, he was able to sell the story again. I think it was mainly political.

Adams: Do you?

Evans: Sorry?

Adams: Do you think it's political?

Evans: Yes, mainly political, I think he -- Harris speculates, anyway, that Irving realized that the diaries would give a favourable impression of Hitler. So he thought that was a reason for --

Adams: OK. Let's get on to the forensics. Here's a case where doctored or completely spurious documents were given the nod by him. Let's now look at a couple of the cases out of the trial where he makes representations about the documents, which you then have to sort out. Give us a prime example or three.

Evans: Yea, well, you know, what we did as we checked out what he'd written mainly about, particularly about Hitler and the Jews, traced it back through his footnotes and references, doubt the original documents and see what he had done. And one point in his book I asked , I wasn't the first to discover it, in 1977 in Hitler's War, he cites a phone conversation from Heinrich Himmler who was the head of the SS and overall in charge of the extermination of the Jews, to his second in command, Reinhard Heydrich, and Himmler kept a log of all his phone conversations -- he noted down in his handwriting brief notes of what, who they were to and what they were about, and this one Irving says relays on the 30th November 1941 a command from Hitler to Himmler that the Jews should not be killed. There should be "no extermination of the Jews". Well, we checked it out and found that what the actual phone log said was 'Jew transport from Berlin -- no annihilation'. So it is [not?] saying Jews weren't to be killed but it was a single trainload transport from Berlin, and what he'd done was simply, conveniently forget to put in the two words 'from Berlin'.Irving And also there is no evidence there at all that Himmler was doing this on the orders of Hitler, and indeed --

Adams: It's rich in ambiguity, isn't it?

Evans: Well, no ambiguity there at all, I'm afraid. You know, it's quite, quite clear this is Himmler's own particular order for his particular reason that a certain trainload of Jews should not be annihilated. In fact, in fact the order got there too late and indeed was massacred when it got to Riga. And the Russian KGB used, during the war as the Red Army was advancing, would take masses and masses of German documents through whichever towns it captured. So it's a huge treasure trove clickoffered for the communism, and in there, among many other things, was Himmler's appointment's diary, and it emerged from that that Himmler did not in fact meet Hitler in the army headquarters -- military headquarters until after he had made the phone call. So, but even after that, even at the trial Irving tried to suggest at one point that there was a letter 'e' at the end of the German word 'Judentransport'. So 'Judentransporte' means Jew transports in the plural, and of course he had to retract that when he was shown the original document. So it's a multiple falsification.Irving

Adams: Are we sure that in a case like that you're dealing with deception or self-deception?

Evans: That's a difficult question to answer. In a way it's a psychological point that the court wasn't really concerned with.

Adams: Your feeling about it.

Evans: Well.

Adams: Does he see what he wants to see, which many of us are guilty of anyway?

Evans: Yes, I mean, well, no, because he knew jolly well that he'd read it and it's quite absolutely clear Himmler's got -- unlike Goebbels who's very difficult to read -- Himmler had a very clear handwriting, and it's clear enough for anybody to see the two words 'from Berlin', and so the conclusion is inescapable that in suppressing those wordsIrving he was doctoring the document.

And also it's just not a mistake, you know, as it says in a James Bond story, once it happens, twice is a coincidence and three times is enemy action -- it's Goldfinger, isn't it? Well, when you find in some of his work, a whole mass of mistakes -- some of them may be small, some of them may be larger and more significant -- but when there are lots and lots of them, they all go in the same direction to support the same argument, then I think you're forced to the conclusion that there is a deliberate element in it.

Adams: And fair is fair because he constantly in the trial hounds people for the most minor errors or slips of the tongue, doesn't he?

Evans: That's right, yes, including me, I mean no historian is perfect. We all make mistakes, as Irving himself has said. So, he did manage to trip me up a couple of times. But as the judge said, 'well you may trip up Professor Evans in one or two things, Mr Irving, but you, these are minor peripheral issues, you've got to get to the main point.'

Adams: OK. Give us another one. Give us another case of manipulation of the text.

Evans: Yea, there was a, the Nuremberg trials the Nazis were put on trial for war crimes, crimes against the peace and humanity, and so on, extremely important event and not much evidence is presented about the Holocaust in this. It wasn't a central issue but there was some, and one witness, a French woman [Vaillant-Couturier], gave very detailed accounts of her time in Auschwitz, of the gassings, the killings, the terrible conditions and murders and brutality, and so on. And one of the American judges, Judge [Francis] Biddle, took notes, and Irving found his notes, and towards the end of the notes on this particular testimony, he notes that she says there was a brothel in the camp set up by the SS, and Biddle puts in brackets after this statement, 'This I do not believe'. Irving, in reproducing this in his work removed the bracket and actually added the word 'all' so he says Biddle says 'all this I do not believe'. And then in his speeches actually then goes on again in a much more less guarded way, he says Biddle said it was all nonsense, all rubbish. So he puts in an extra word into the connotation to make it seem as if it's a blanket disbelief, not that that in the end would actually disprove the French witnesses' case at all. It says that one judge didn't believe it. The fact that he didn'tonly believe one tiny element.

Adams: Many of the people in the court room, either as participants or observers, draw analogies with Monty Python, with Lewis Carrol. They seem to say that they're in a world of total absurdity where one's grip on sanity seem to be at risk.

Evans: Yes, even Richard Rampton, the defence QC, said at one point he thought he was in Alice in Wonderland in one of Irving's answers where Irving was trying, talking about John Buchan, the author being an anti-Semite, and Rampton saying, What has that got to do with the case?Irving And there were, it did jump about a lot. The judge was quite good at keeping order, as it were, getting us to stick to the point, but there were a number of points at which he did wander off and become rather, rather strange and rather absurd, and it was -

Adams: Wasn't addressing the larger point of how could any sane person, particularly a professional historian, at the end of the 20th century be raising these issues, these fundamental issues of Holocaust denial? It was more just the performance?

Evans: Eh, yes, yes, I mean, it, it, I mean (gasp) it was difficult sometime amidst all the sort of inevitable gamesmanship of a court case to remember that we were actually talking about millions of entirely innocent people being brutally arrested, put in terrible concentration camps and deliberately murdered only because they were Jews. One had sometimes to sort of pinch oneself to remember the human reality behind it. Although one was reminded quite frequently if you looked at the public benches you could see camp survivors there, elderly people who sometimes rolled up their sleeves and have the tattoo marks they were given.

Adams: -- but they were sitting side by side with neo-Nazis and old Nazis.

Evans: Yes, it was one of the bizarre features, you know, you'd see a skinhead reading some piece of far-right anti-Semitic literature sitting next to an elderly Holocaust survivor.Irving

Adams: And then there's a character who was putting out sheets of paper warning everyone that David Irving was in fact a front man for Zionism.

Evans: So it was said. Yes, yes, it does, these things do attract rather strange kinds of people.

Adams: The four key principles of Holocaust denial, drawn up by Richard Evans, and these are if you like, the fundamentals, the building blocks of denial:

  1. The number of Jews killed by the Nazis was far less than six million; it amounted to only a few hundred thousand, and was thus similar to or less than the number of German civilians killed in Allied bombing raids;
  2. Gas chambers were not used to kill large numbers of Jews at any time;
  3. Neither Hitler no the Nazi leadership in general had a program of exterminating Europe's Jews. All they wished to do was to deport them to eastern Europe; and
  4. The Holocaust was a myth invented by Allied propaganda during the war and sustained then since by Jews who wish to use it to gain political and financial support for the sate of Israel or for themselves. The supposed evidence for Nazi war-time mass murder of millions of Jews by gassing and other means was fabricated after the war.

Does, does Irving hold to those principles or does he depart from one or two of them?Irving

Evans: I concluded in looking at his work that he's held to the principle that there was no co-ordinated extermination program from very early one, but that he'd only come around to the other three principles at the end of the 1980s. So that if you looked into his earlier work it does mention the death factories at Auschwitz and gives the high numbers and so on. But since then I think he has held to those points of view. The court certainly accepted that.

Adams: And that's why he wanted his time in court, wasn't it really, to push his barrow? There was another opportunity for him to gain media attention, to be a martyr?

Evans: Yea, well, first of all to gain media attention. Since the early 90s, since he became a serious Holocaust denier -- and these are not just my principles, and I looked through all the literature and that's what everybody agrees the essential points of Holocaust denial are, and Irving did not effectively dispute that in court. And since the early 90s, since he became, went that way, he's found it very, very difficult to gain an audience.

Adams: Well, that depends where you are. He's known quite a few audiences in Germany for example.

Evans: No, he's been banned from entering Germany since 1992. He's not been able to go to Austria. He's been banned from entering -

Adams: Belgium?

Evans: -- six countries. I don't think he's been to Belgium recently. I'm not sure whether he's banned from there or not. He's certainly banned from France, and he's not been able to find publishers for his books. Even Penguins, one of the defendants, were a former publisher of Irving. They published his stuff in the late 70s and early 80s. So, it's certainly true, I think, that I think very likely that he thought of the trial as a way of gaining publicity for his work. But -

Adams: He's very good at that, though, isn't he?

Evans: Oh, yes, but it completely backfired. He started complaining fairly soon in the trial that the press was against him, that they were biased against him, and he tried to get the judge to intervene, which the judge refused to do, though he did, as he said, fire a warning shot across the bows of the press. And by the end the publicity was so overwhelming negative that the whole thing completely backfired. When a libel trial finishes, the press love to be able to say the things they can't normally say about people. So there were headlines like 'A Liar exposed, a fascist bully, neo-Nazi', whatever it was. There were very, very strongly worded headlines and stories in the press, which were overwhelmingly negative about Irving.

Adams: Well, whether the liar was destroyed, the lies live on because as you say these key principles of denial are universally held. There's quite a few references to Australia in your book and I'm in regular correspondence with many of the deniers here with the Adelaide Institute.

Evans: Hmm.

Adams I've been taken to the Press Council by the League of Rights and others. Nothing that happened in that court, nothing that happens anywhere, undermines what I describe as the toxic sludge that pours from these institutions.

Evans: Oh, well, now you see, I don't quite [agree?] with that. I think that the, what Lipstadt said about Irving was that he's one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial, and dangerous in her view because unlike these producers of the toxic schla -- sludge, he's actually a best-selling author who's produced books that have been very widely read and had acquired a reputation of being serious works of history about Nazis and the second world war, and so on. So he's in a different league from the others. The others just produce books that are purely books of Holocaust denial. He's produced books that range across, that range much more widely, and are much more widely read.

Adams: Yes, the others are more reliant on the net, aren't they?

Evans: Well, they've become what somebody's called "cyber-warriors of Holocaust denial" in a wonderful phrase. So, by damaging the reputation of Irving, which I think the trial and the judgment above all did do, I think that it struck a blow against the more credible or the less loopy side of Holocaust denial.

Adams: Well, even if one of the things that it and you did was persuade Christopher Hitchens to modify his views I suppose, all is not lost. So you think he has in fact been mortally wounded by this experience?

Evans: Well, it depends what you mean. I think, not just professional historians, many of whom thought before the trial -- I talked to them -- there were some, that Irving's unreliability was only in one or two small areas, had been convinced that it goes much wider and deeper than that. But in particular, your average reader who is not well informed about history and who reads for pleasure essentially, I think has damaged Irving's reputation amongst the wider reading public. I mean, there was enormous press attention, as I said, and very negative, and few people can escape the resonances entirely.

Adams: Has he surfaced since the trial to any extent in the UK?

Evans: No, not a lot. I mean he, of course, tried to launch an appeal against the trial. The right to an appeal was finally denied him. He was then made bankrupt for failing to pay the first charge of the costs. He appealed against that and -

Adams: Right

Evans: -- that was rejected. So he's run, those legal actions have had a bit of a --

He's mainly active in the United States, which is really the centre of Holocaust denial, particularly California the home of all wacky ideas.

Adams: Well, Richard, if that's the outcome, one can only salute it, and it adds strength to the argument that I've mounted here over the Irving controversy that the best way to deal with him is to confront him and to refute him. But you've also mentioned the fact that he's banned from this, that and the other country -- this is one of them -- do you endorse that?

Evans: No, I don't, actually, maybe with one exception, which is Germany. I think Germany is a special case. There is a law against Holocaust denial in Germany, and it's not just the case they have a particular history to deal with there, after all. But also there is the sensitivity [of] world opinion [to] any cases of Holocaust denial or neo-fascism in Germany [which] is absolutely enormous. So the country's reputation needs to be safeguarded, and I think there's a case you can make out for a law against Holocaust denial in Germany, but not really, I think, in other countries. I'm certainly worried by attempts to get the EU to homogenise Holocaust denial law. I think it gives them undue prominence. It may help make martyrs out of them. There're only perhaps thirty-odd serious Holocaust deniers in Britain. Opinion polls in the United States have shown that more people believe Elvis Presley is still alive than believe there are no gas chambers at Auschwitz.


Concluded in Part II

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